THE RESUME IS ANOTHER important part of the MBA application.
It is often one of the first things that the Admissions Board looks at in your application packet. Think of it as a snapshot of your work, your life journey, and what stands out about you. It reveals to the MBA Board your professional and educational accomplishments, as well as any interesting and unusual things you have done or are currently involved in.
Most top MBA programs require a resume, so plan to update yours early in the process and invest enough time in it to ensure that it adequately reflects your brand. Unfortunately, many applicants do not pay enough attention to their resumes, thus missing an opportunity to sell themselves to the MBA Board.
Candidates often question how much work experience is necessary to apply to business school. Deciding how much information to include on the resume can also be tricky. Those with more years of experience wonder if they should submit their seven-page curriculum vitae (CV) that covers every job they have ever held. On the other hand, candidates with limited work experience worry that they don’t have enough information to highlight in their resumes. Although the average number of years of work experience is four to five years, there is no set requirement. Seasoned and early career candidates are both admitted to the nation’s top business schools. Regardless of where you fall on the age and work experience continuum, the key is to make sure that your career is on an upward trajectory and that you can make a compelling case for why you need an MBA now. Ideally, you should keep your resume to one to two pages, unless the school requests a more comprehensive curricular vita. Be as succinct as possible and focus on the most important impact and contributions you had rather than including ten bullets of each responsibility you had in a particular job. Using active verbs and eliminating any redundancies will help you create a focused resume.
The resume for business school is different from the
resume an individual uses to search for a job. Unlike job
resumes, application resumes should contain limited jargon
and acronyms (the person reviewing your application may not
know the intricacies of your industry). Also, you do not need
to include a reference, summary, or objective section. They
only use up precious space. The MBA application in general
calls for brevity and the resume in particular needs to be short
and to the point as it typically gets only a few seconds to about
five minutes of the MBA Board’s attention. I recognize that
producing a succinct resume poses its share of challenge to
MBA applicants. I’ll focus the next section on the critical
components of the resume.
THE FOUR COMPONENTS OF THE PERFECT MBA RESUME
Determining what to include in your resume can be difficult
for many applicants. Many who struggle with this issue end up
including everything they can think of, which does nothing to
strengthen their application. Some candidates make the oppo-
site mistake: they make the resume too short and leave out
interesting and unique things about themselves—things that
can differentiate them from their competition and instead focus
on solely the academic and career aspects of their resume.
I will discuss the key things to include in the resume. For
starters, the resume for business school should have four main
components: professional experience, education, activities
(leadership), and interests/other.
The Professional Experience Section
The professional experience section is about achievements you
have had in your career and your roles, not simply regurgitating
your job description. It is important to communicate your
professional career progress by emphasizing the quantifiable
aspects of your job.
The types of questions you should be thinking of when
creating your resume for your business school application are:
Did I get an early promotion? Was I the only analyst from my
group invited to work on a high-value, complicated deal? Did
I have an unusual opportunity to manage groups of people, even
peers? Did I initiate something that has now become the stan-
dard at my firm? Have I had opportunities to lead and work
across functional roles? Have I led diverse or global teams?
Have I been able to create value at my firm? These questions
are designed to help you focus on the tangible contributions
you have had at your firms.
MBA candidates are challenged with the amount of detail
they should cover in the professional experience section. Prior-
itization is key in this process. Anticipate that you will have
about four to five bullets at most for each job, so think long and
hard about the most important achievements you wish to high-
light and ascertain whether they reinforce your personal brand.
A rule of thumb is that the further removed you are from the
position, the fewer bullets you allot to it. Another useful tool in
saving space is to provide a sampling of deals or projects you
have worked on instead of devoting extensive space to every
major project you have worked on. So for instance, an invest-
ment banker can select three to four major deals she has worked
156 THE BEST BUSINESS SCHOOLS’ ADMISSIONS SECRETS
on to show diversity of industries and breadth of experience
instead of every single deal she has worked on.
The professional experience section should be in reverse
chronology, with the most current job first. If you work for a
lesser-known company, consider including a sentence that
describes what the firm does, its market size, and what makes
You should indicate your job title and show whether your
role has grown over time. You should also make it easy for the
MBA Board to follow your progress. Make sure the information
of your tenure—your years at the job—is clear and easily iden-
tifiable. Ensure that the dates are easy to see.
Internships are valuable work experience that should not be
ignored; in fact, they can be critical for early career candidates
with limited work experience. That said, however, the longer
you have worked, the less important it is to provide detailed
information on every internship you have held in your life. You
will need to make trade-offs on what specific information to
focus on and what information to minimize. Experiences that
reinforce your personal brand should be highlighted (especially
if you have strong examples of leadership and impact), rather
than roles that do not reinforce your brand message.
For college students, the work experience section is even
more important because you have to make a strong case with
limited experience that you have the potential to “hold your
own” in a business school. You should highlight your intern-
ships and show what you were able to do besides doing what
may be considered grunt work. This section of the resume is
where you can show your maturity and initiative. If, for
instance, you worked during your school year, you should defi-
nitely highlight the work you did and the value you created. If
you were involved in an entrepreneurial venture, you should
make sure that you communicate the size of the business, the
achievement, and your role so the Admissions Board can gauge
The Resume and Professional Record 157
whether you have enough professional insight to be admitted.
The good news is that there is no age or work limit, so instead
of focusing on the quantity of years of experience, show the
impact and quality of contribution you had in the time you
The Education Section
The education section typically comes after the professional
work experience section. The exception to this applies to appli-
cants who are still in college or who have less than a year of
work experience. The first point you need to convey in the
education section is where you went to school and your grad-
uation year. It is worth including that you graduated early if
that was your situation. It is also important to highlight your
major, class rank, GPA, and any dual, double, or specialized
degrees that you pursued. You should also mention any grad-
uate degrees you have earned, as well as business coursework
you have taken (especially if you did not take business classes
in college). The education section is also where you discuss
your awards, for instance, being on the Dean’s List or any
scholarships and honors awards you received. If you received
any unique and highly selective awards or honors, you should
quantify this to help the Admissions Board understand its
selectivity. You should also include your study abroad program
in this section.
Some additional points related to your GPA: The GPA you
reference on your resume should match up to that on your offi-
cial transcript. Inconsistencies, especially when the GPA on
your resume is higher than your official GPA, raise questions
about your integrity.
Research papers published in professional journals should be
mentioned in this section as well. For example, someone whose
honors thesis is selected for presentation at a national profes-
sional association should highlight this achievement.
158 THE BEST BUSINESS SCHOOLS’ ADMISSIONS SECRETS
If you transferred from one school to another, it is important
that your resume reflect this change. I’m often asked whether
an applicant is obligated to include the schools attended if he or
she didn’t graduate from there. The simple answer is yes. You
don’t want to misrepresent yourself. So, if you left school after
a semester or two and transferred to another school, you should
include this information. Many MBA programs ask for all the
schools you have attended, so not providing this information
can come back to haunt you.
Other unique situations that are worth mentioning in the
education section of your resume can be self-financing your
education or being the first in your family to graduate from
The Activities Section
The activities part of your resume is also very important. When
you are thinking of your activities, you should think primarily in
the context of leadership: does it highlight your leadership at-
tribute, character, or achievement? Remember the 3 Cs discussed
earlier. You should keep them in mind when addressing the re-
sume in general and the activities section in particular. Showing
a track record of consistent leadership not only in your career but
in your community involvement and during your college years
places you on a different level compared to your competition.
The activities section allows you to communicate how you
are different from each candidate in your category who works
in the same industry/firm. Are you involved in extracurricular
activities that matter to you? Pick the ones that reinforce your
brand message and where you had the greatest impact. You will
be limited by space, so be selective on how far back you wish to
go. The longer you have worked, the less far back you should
go. A professional with ten years of experience should not go as
far back as high school to highlight the summer Habit for
Humanity project he worked on. It will raise flags about the
The Resume and Professional Record 159
absence of more recent community involvement. Your college
activities are acceptable.
MBA Boards are interested in candidates who have a life
outside of work and who are more than academic geniuses. The
reality for many applicants is that they will have strong leader-
ship activities while in college but these often taper off once
they start working, especially for those in the financial services
and consulting industries. Even if you are no longer involved in
a particular activity, if you had significant impact during your
college years, you should highlight this in the activities section.
Quality is also more important than quantity, so focus on the
activities that mean the most to you rather than having a
laundry list of peripheral involvement.
Applicants should go beyond listing their activities. They
need to provide information that communicates the depth and
scope of their involvement. Stay away from activities where
your only involvement is as a member. Focus on those where
you demonstrated leadership and impact. Applicants to busi-
ness school often have a lot of leadership activities during
college. Many of them showcase their leadership through activ-
ities such as managing the student investment portfolio, leading
new initiatives through student senate, or supervising more
than 100 students as resident assistants.
Leadership roles can also come from athletics. For instance,
you may have been the captain of your soccer team. Did the
team’s ranking improve? Did you institute any initiative to
improve teamwork and training regimens? Highlight your
influence through this formal leadership role. Not all activities
include formal leadership titles, however. So even if you were
not the captain of your team, playing on a varsity sports team
is an accomplishment to be proud of. You can highlight things
such as the number of games played, team rank, any awards you
received that set you apart (for instance, being ranked fifth in
the nation among female doubles tennis players).
160 THE BEST BUSINESS SCHOOLS’ ADMISSIONS SECRETS
Activities can also come from your community involvement.
The duration of your involvement is important (highlighting
continuity and commitment), but if you do not have a history
of long-term participation, you can offset this by focusing on
your impact. Some of the exceptional leadership activities that
I have come across over the years have been achieved in the
span of less than a year. Whether you choose to serve on the
leadership board of a nonprofit organization, you start an
organization to help immigrants assimilate into a new society,
or you volunteer in an organization that does social good, the
important point to convey in the activities section is the quan-
tifiable contributions you have made and why it matters to you
in the first place.
The Interests/Other Section
Similar to the activities section, your interests/other section also
allows you to stand apart from your competition. There are no
ideal profiles in this section. The important point to convey is
that you are interesting and have a different point of view or
perspective you can offer to the MBA class. One of the main
admissions evaluation criteria is uniqueness. This information
can cover aspects of your brand that differentiate you from
other candidates. For instance, are you internationally minded?
If you are, you can show your commitment to international
business by highlighting your multilingual abilities (especially if
you have achieved fluency in them). Honesty is very important,
so avoid exaggerating your skills. If you are conversant but not
fluent in a language, then say exactly that.
If you have quirky and interesting things in your brand, by
all means capitalize on them in this section. Think about what
the interest you profile says about you. Ask yourself whether it
sets you apart or reinforces a stereotype that already exists about
you. A simple example of this can be seen in the case of an engi-
neer who is passionate about salsa dancing. His commitment
The Resume and Professional Record 161
comes through his four years as a dance instructor. The stereo-
type of the smart but bland technical individual goes out the
window when you envision him gyrating to pulsating merengue
music. Why is this important? It shows that this applicant not
only has a life outside of work but is highly adaptable and can
connect with different people.
Traveling is an interest that falls in the usual suspect cate-
gory. If you choose to discuss traveling as an interest of yours,
make sure you go beyond, “I like to travel and see new cities.”
This is a major cliché and gets you zero bonus points. A better
way to convey this could be leading a trek to a remote area that
isn’t your usual hot spot. If your travel led to your interest in a
particular region and you decided to work there, then it is worth
mentioning. Here’s an example of this:
AVID TRAVELER: Trip to Costa Rica during college break led to
discovery of eco-tourism and influenced decision to work in Costa Rica
for a year after graduating from college.
There are other interesting things about your background
that you may wish to address in the interests/other section of
your resume. A few examples are captured here:
• Growing up in an interesting region, especially one where
there are ongoing global political issues (for example,
Sudan, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Nepal)
• Unusual upbringing can also be interesting to feature in
the interests/other section: growing up in a blue collar
family in the Midwest; being the first in your family to
attend college; raising your younger siblings because of
family issues; living in different countries; growing up on
a farm or an Indian reservation
• Running multicountry marathons in cities that have a
special meaning to you
162 THE BEST BUSINESS SCHOOLS’ ADMISSIONS SECRETS
Skills, awards, and certifications are also important elements
to flag in the interests/other section of the resume. Similar to
other parts of the resume, you have to determine whether the
information you are highlighting will resonate with the brand
of the school. Schools that are highly technical will likely appre-
ciate your technical achievements in mastering programming
languages or in building a complicated system network more
than schools that are not.
If you are a financial analyst, having passed all three levels
of the chartered financial analyst (CFA) exams is an important
accomplishment to share in your resume. The same thing
applies to other certifications, whether the CPA for account-
ants or the Series 7 and 66 exams to sell securities.
If you have received awards for something you do outside of
work this is also the appropriate area to mention it. For
example, I knew a banker who happened to be very dynamic
and was selected to be a national spokesperson to promote posi-
tive and educational achievements for teenagers. These types
of eclectic achievements are worth mentioning in your resume.
A consultant interested in teenage empowerment can highlight
her experience launching the first-ever teenage-focused televi-
sion programming in her country. If she received an award for
her work, then that is even more compelling.
If you are not sure what should make it into the resume
and what should be cut out, start by writing down everything
and then cut down drastically anything that doesn’t reinforce
your brand, showcase your leadership, or differentiate you
from others. Don’t be shy about getting feedback from
alumni from the MBA programs you are interested in with
whom you work or getting the opinion of a professional
But beyond the four resume components, candidates to busi-
ness school are often at a loss regarding how narrow or broad
they should keep their resume. This issue goes to the heart of
The Resume and Professional Record 163
the next section—deciding between breadth and depth when
positioning the resume.
POSITIONING THE RESUME: BREADTH VS.
I am often asked whether it is better to have worked for one
company or in the same industry in similar roles (depth)
versus having multiple positions in different industries and/or
roles (breadth). The simple answer is that it depends on each
candidate’s particular situation. There are admitted candi-
dates who worked at the same firm and in the same functional
area for several years. These individuals’ backgrounds show-
case their depth of experience and commitment to their
industry. The challenge for applicants with significant depth
is to show that they have not stagnated at the same company
or job. It is important to show that your responsibility and
contribution has grown even though you have remained at
the same firm. An investment banker who worked three years
as an analyst and then gets promoted to associate with
responsibility for managing analysts is an example of a candi-
date with depth of experience.
Equally admissible are candidates with breadth of work expe-
rience. These candidates have resumes that reflect different job
positions. Sometimes the roles can be different in terms of func-
tion or in terms of industry. An example of a candidate with
breadth of work experience is the accountant who worked for
Ernest and Young, then joined the Peace Corps after a couple
of years, and then decided to work for a foundation. The chal-
lenge that a candidate with breadth of experience faces is
making sure that the story is cogent, that is, that the resume
connects the different roles in a way that makes sense to the
MBA Board. Candidates from professional backgrounds with a
lot of breadth have to show that their career path has been well
planned and isn’t haphazard and random.
164 THE BEST BUSINESS SCHOOLS’ ADMISSIONS SECRETS
Regardless of where you fall on the breadth/depth
continuum, make sure that your work experiences focus on
your brand, demonstrate that you have developed new skills
even within a focused role, and that you have had an impact
on the organizations, teams, and individuals you have worked
with. But more than that, candidates should show that the
choices they have made in their career make sense and show
The focus should be on the most compelling things about
you. Remember that the resume is an extension of your brand.
Make sure it is consistent with the rest of your application. Are
your brand attributes and themes represented in your resume?
When the Admissions Board reads your resume, it should
confirm the conclusion they have already drawn of who you are.
The sample resume that follows provides a picture of what a
winning resume looks like. (Because this candidate has started
a nonprofit organization, he felt a need to include Volunteer
Experience as a separate section, which is fine.)
555 Sandy Lake Ave, NY, NY 10000
[email protected]; (212) 555-5555
COTY PRESTIGE New York, NY
Senior Financial Analyst—Financial Planning and Analysis Group
Managed sixteen brand P & Ls totaling $105MM in sales, gener-
ating profits of $10MM annually with $53MM marketing budget.
Collaborated with marketing and sales teams to build annual com-
pany budget and forecasts. Determined profit impact from
changes in revenue and advertising/promotional expense forecasts.
The Resume and Professional Record 165
Provided marketing team product launch budget guidelines
after analyzing historical expenses of new campaigns.
Enabled senior marketing directors to fund new programs after
conducting actual-to-budget variance analyses.
Led meetings with U.S. and global marketing teams to ensure
use of promotional inventory to generate sales.
NEW YORK & COMPANY New York, NY
Financial Analyst—Store Finance & Real Estate Department
Analyzed return on investment and financial viability of building
new stores to assist in company brand expansion. Assessed
cost-benefits of downsizing/remodeling stores to maximize
individual store productivity.
Assisted in reorganizing divisional field sales by geography to
gain cost efficiencies.
Evaluated retail environment and sales trends to forecast store
performance and aggressively control expenditures.
Recommended closing of 30 stores that led to $3 million savings.
MERRILL LYNCH New York, NY
Compliance Associate—Global Securities Research and
Enforced compliance with SEC laws and regulations as liaison
between analyst research teams and investment banking counsel.
Edited research reports to remove restricted insider informa-
tion under highly time-sensitive conditions.
TOP HONORS, INC (a not-for-profit organization that provides
free tutoring to low-achieving students)
New York, NY
Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer
Built budget model to determine financial needs and secured
funding from Citigroup and Columbia University. Managed
166 THE BEST BUSINESS SCHOOLS’ ADMISSIONS SECRETS
effective use of resources to operate weekly sessions under
Fostered relationships with schools to ensure consistent
student enrollment levels. Educated 120+ children since
Developed and executed guerilla marketing campaign to triple
tutor volunteer staffing in first 2 years. (Recent student scores
resulted in 44 percent improvement.)
NATIONAL TAIWAN NORMAL UNIVERSITY,
Certificate of Study, Mandarin Chinese language program
UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA,
Bachelor of Arts dual majors in communications and economics
Awards: Time-Warner, Inc. Community Leadership Award and
Scholarship · Taiwan Ministry Scholarship for one year study
Activities: Marketing coordinator for Penn Health Services ·
English department writing tutor
Languages: Proficiency in Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese
Software: Excel (advanced), Visual Basic programming, Hype-
rion/Essbase, MS Office
COMMON RESUME MISTAKES
1. Jargon-filled: A resume for admission to business
school is very different from a resume for an appli-
cation for a job. Unlike work resumes, which are full
of industry terms, resumes for an MBA application
The Resume and Professional Record 167
need to be short, jargon-free, and clear. Avoid
acronyms that have little meaning to people outside
2. Empty Adjectives: Superfluous language without
tangible numbers to back it up offers little insight
into exactly what you have achieved professionally.
Also, speaking in generalities does not reveal your
actual impact. Winning resumes always quantify the
change you brought about or the impact you had.
3. One-dimensional: MBA Boards are looking for can-
didates who are multidimensional. Don’t hesitate to
put that quirky hobby or organization you have been
volunteering for in your resume. Being smart or work-
ing at a blue chip firm isn’t enough to land a covet-
ed admission spot. Use the resume to represent what
else you have done with your time outside of work.
4. Jumping Around: Leaving your job in less than two
years can be a red flag to the Admissions Board.
Obviously this advice is helpful only if you are plan-
ning to make the jump. For those of you who have
already left your firm after a brief stint, look for a
subtle place in your application to address this issue.
But equally important is to connect the dots to show
that the next move was a strategic decision that fits
within your overall career goals.
5. Dishonesty: This goes without saying, but I can’t
stress the importance of not inflating your involve-
ment and impact enough. The MBA Board can see
through any attempts to “pad” your story. Also, don’t
be tempted to leave out positions where you worked
for a brief period. Hiding the truth has a way of
coming back to bite you when you least expect it!
6. Too Lengthy, Rambling, and Cluttered: A five-page
CV is not acceptable for an MBA application (unless
168 THE BEST BUSINESS SCHOOLS’ ADMISSIONS SECRETS
the school explicitly says it’s OK). A busy board
member does not want to spend hours pouring
through your CV. Keep your resume to one to two
pages and focus on the impact and results you deliv-
ered. Avoid manipulating the font size to try to jam
everything into the resume. Anything smaller than a
10-point font is difficult for the reader to read. Leave
lots of white space to make the resume attractive and
inviting. At the end of the day, a cluttered resume is
less inviting to read.
7. Mistake-Ridden: A shoddy resume will reflect nega-
tively on your brand. Avoid spelling mistakes and
grammatical errors. Make sure your numbers are
accurate so that you don’t have to explain yourself
when the school verifies your application after you
have been admitted. Inconsistencies in your story
can be reason for an admission offer to be rescinded.
8. Untailored: Every school is different. For instance,
when applying to MIT Sloan, a school with a strong
innovation and technical brand, you may be well
served to include information about the highly tech-
nical courses you took in college or the technical
project you managed during your internship. On the
other hand, it may be more compelling to use the
limited space to address the marketing projects you
worked on if you are applying to Kellogg or
Michigan, programs with strong marketing brands.
9. Failure to Educate: If you have an unusual industry,
firm, or role, make sure you provide a short descrip-
tion under the professional employment section to
educate the reader about your experience and
impact. This will help the MBA Board understand
that your company isn’t a hole-in-the-wall and that
your impact was significant. This is particularly
The Resume and Professional Record 169
important for internationals whose companies may
not be as well known in the United States.
10. Boring: Although the resume is not an essay, it needs
to be interesting and well written to capture the
attention of the Admissions Board. Make sure you
use active descriptors and avoid using passive
sentences. Action verbs are the best way to describe
11. Poor Judgment: In an attempt to make the resume
stand out, never resort to gimmicky or cute tricks:
they are likely to fail! Stick to the facts and keep the
entire resume professional. Your email address
should avoid things that call to question your matu-
rity, such as “[email protected]” or any other
inappropriate email addresses. Save those for your
friends only. Your resume will stand out based on the
merit of your work rigor, initiative, and impact.
Now that you are armed with a solid resume, you are now
ready for your audition. The resume summarizes your story and
an interview allows you to expound on it. Next to the essays,
your interview is your next best chance to “sell” yourself.